Elements of Appreciation

What are some elements to effective appreciation?

  • Daily - find something every day to appreciate, an action or an attitude 
  • Focus - keep your mind focused on the positive qualities of your mate, instead of the bad habits or hurtful comments. This focus is an attitude of the heart. 
  • Express thanks when you catch your spouse doing something good or something helpful. You have to be looking for the positive! 
  • Praise (out loud) positive character attributes in your spouse. Thank him for who he is, not just what he does. 
  • Be thankful in your heart for all the good that God has given you in your spouse. 
  • Respond in a positive, interactive conversation when your spouse shares her life with you. 
  • Ask your spouse for advice to show you value/appreciate his opinion and judgement. 
  • Speak highly of your spouse to friends, your children, and other family members. Best done in your spouse’s presence!

Dishonor, Neglect, and Taking for Granted My Spouse

What happens in marriage? 

We were so attentive to each other before marriage. We show each other how important and valuable they are to us.

But after we are married, we often become complacent and take each other for granted. I become focused on the things that annoy me instead of the special qualities in my spouse, the reasons we got married. We neglect the little things that show gratitude and appreciation.

When we truly feel gratitude, we experience heartfelt awe and appreciation for the goodness of something outside ourselves. Having gratitude towards someone or something means respecting its value and treasuring how unique, beautiful, or indispensable it is. (Susan Heitler Ph.D)

Without gratitude and appreciation, I don't feel valued by my spouse. 

When we are living up close and personal, hurt eventually happens. After the hurt, I may strike back and cause more hurt. Or I may withdraw and allow bitterness and resentment to set in. Resentment causes more hurt and leads to a hard heart.

If I don’t have the courage to extend appreciation, even when I see my spouse do something good, we get into a downward spiral. Then, my spouse doesn’t show appreciation and criticizes me . . .  then I am not going to show appreciation.

Disregard for my spouse's positive behavior or neglecting to show appreciation or ignoring his/her special qualities will lead towards a cold, hard marriage. 

With the Lord's presence in my life, I can be strong and have the courage to show appreciation and gratitude, even when I know that it may not be returned in the beginning. It will make me feel better as well as building bridges in my marriage.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
If I don't take that step of courage, I may see my marriage slip away or descend into a dark place. It's is worth the effort! 

I am reminded of a Joni Mitchell song from the '60's:
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone

We forget that happiness doesn't come from getting something that I don't have, but it comes from recognizing and appreciating something that I do have.

See our previous post on Appreciation and our next post on Elements of Appreciation.


The little things in marriage become the big things. When appreciation and kindness are expressed in the little things, a great marriage becomes a big thing.

We teach our children to say please and thank you. Do we set the example in the way we treat each other and the way we treat them?

Expressing appreciation in relationships carries great weight. As I recognize the good that my spouse does everyday and express it to him, I build a strong foundation for my marriage. He will know that I value him.

Think about something of great value that you want to last for a lifetime.

What do you do?

If you want something to last a lifetime, you treat it differently. You protect it. You don’t abuse it. You don’t expose it to harmful conditions. You don’t make it common. You treat it in an extraordinary way.

It becomes special because you make it special. It grows more beautiful and precious as you cherish it.

Marriage is the same.

I show value to my spouse as I express my appreciation and love every day.

My spouse knows she is special to me and our marriage grows more delightful and remarkable. It will last a lifetime!

Heart of Appreciation

The heart of appreciation is a grateful spirit.
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Colossians 3:16

Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? It is not he who prays the most or fasts the most, it is not he who lives the most, but it is he who is always thankful to God, who receives everything as an instance of God’s goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it. William Law

That heart of appreciation and gratitude starts with gratitude towards a good God. Until I see His goodness and my need, I will have an attitude of expectancy towards Him rather than gratitude. In thanksgiving and praise to God is a heart that appreciates others.

See future posts on elements of appreciation and the opposite of appreciation.

Trust and Trustworthy


Every day that we step into this world, we enter into trust relationships.

When we leave home, we trust that our car is going to work and that other drivers are going to obey the traffic signs.

We trust the bank to keep our money safe and assessable. We trust our employer to pay us when we go to work.

We trust our friends to not share the personal parts of our lives. We trust the schools to educate and safeguard our children.

When I marry, I trust you to be faithful. I trust you with my emotions. I trust you with my innermost thoughts. I trust you to care about me and listen when I’m upset. I trust you to be honest with me. I trust you with our children. I trust you to be loyal to me - even over parents and friends.

If betrayal enters any trust relationship, it is very hard to trust again in that situation.

If we don’t trust others, we end up isolated, alone, and paranoid. We are unable to trust another person with our love, our thoughts and feelings.

> It has been said, We're never so vulnerable than when we trust someone — but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy.

Others will always let us down. It takes courage to risk being hurt — courage to continue to engage with the world, with institutions, and with people — especially in marriage.

Even when my spouse lets us down, I have to learn to trust again — not based on their character but based on my love for that person and my trust in the Lord. 


We cannot trust in our possessions or wealth, in others, or in ourselves.
  • Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Psalm 20:7 
  • Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. Psalm 146:3 
  • Those who trust in their riches will fall. Proverbs 11:28 
  • Those who trust in themselves are fools. Proverbs 28:26a 
We can trust God, have confidence in Him, and rely on His love for us.
  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5 
  • Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. Jeremiah 17:17 
  • I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. Psalm 52:8 
  • When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. Psalm 56:3


As a marriage partner, not only do I need to trust my spouse, I need to show myself to be worthy of trust. 

Trustworthiness is built on honesty and transparency.

For my spouse to trust me, I show that I am honest in what I say and transparent in what I do.

Being honest doesn’t mean that I say everything that I think. But it does mean that I am honest in all that I do say.

Being transparent means that I do not try to hide anything from my spouse. I am transparent about how I spend my time, to whom I talk, text, or email. 

Deception is not an option.

Building trust includes showing my spouse that I can be trusted to care for her when she needs support — whether it is physical or emotional. 

What do I do when I see that she is tired or sad?
Do I stop what I am doing and put him first?
Do I listen to him?
Do I give up what I want to do right then to help relieve her fatigue or stress? 

When I am trustworthy, I am faithful and loyal to my spouse. My faithfulness to my spouse keeps me from even considering an intimate conversation with someone of the opposite gender. I don’t daydream of how life could be with someone else. 

When my marriage seems bland and lifeless, instead of blaming my spouse, I infuse spontaneity and creativity into the relationship. I am faithful to grow our marriage.

My loyalty to my spouse puts him before anyone else — ahead of my parents, our children, friends, or work. My spouse is my priority.

Being trustworthy means that when my spouse shares her thoughts and ideas, she can trust me to be respectful and interested.


How do I build trust in my marriage?
  • I am honest with my spouse at all times - no lies, white or otherwise. 
  • I let my spouse know where I am at all times. I do not have lunch or dinner with someone of the opposite sex without talking to my spouse about it. 
  • I let me spouse read or check my emails, phone, texts, or any other messages at any time. 
  • I allow my spouse to make me accountable for my behavior or attitude. My spouse can call me out if I have a bad or neglectful behavior. 
  • I make my home a safe place, both physically and emotionally. My spouse can trust me not to be physically violent. My spouse can trust me to care about how I make her feel with my responses and remarks to her. 
  • Most of all, I can show that I am trustworthy as I trust the Lord with my life. I am committed to follow Him in every aspect of my life. Our home is a place of faith.

Compassion vs. Hardhearted


Most marriages don’t die suddenly in a big explosion. Most die slowly from a lack of compassion.

Compassion is a basic, necessary quality of being human. When compassion is lacking, a hard heart and/or resentment take up residence.

Steven Stosny has done lots of work with people who become abusive, especially in marriage.

He says: “Compassion is sympathy for the hurt or distress of another. At heart it is a simple appreciation of the basic human frailty we all share, which is why the experience of compassion makes you feel more humane and less isolated.

To develop compassion, stop and think about the other person first when someone does something that seems hurtful or irritating. Think about what they may be feeling or experiencing. Why are they doing what they are doing?

If they sound harsh, what stress are they under, what is happening in their life?

Instead of reacting with an equally harsh tone, act with compassion. Instead of acting hurtful in return, reach out and see what is going on.

Another step towards compassion is to express sympathy when someone expresses a struggle or stress in their life. “I am sorry that you are hurting.” You may think that their situation shouldn’t warrant their reaction but compassion doesn’t judge or discount the feelings of another.

We don’t do as we have been done unto, we do as we would want others to do unto us.

Our ability to show compassion originates in the heart of God. His compassion towards us and others gives us an example and an imperative. His Spirit that lives in us gives us the power to be compassionate.


Compassion is a defining attribute of our Lord. He shows compassion with His grace and mercy.
  • The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Psalm 103:8
  • The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. Psalm 116:5 
  • For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. Isaiah 49:13b
  • When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them. Matthew 9:36a
  • The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. James 5:11
As we understand and receive His compassion for us, we can pour it out to others through His Spirit in us.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32


Compassion is essential for the emotional bonds of marriage or any close relationship to form.

Once I have been hurt in a relationship, it is harder to practice compassion. I blame the other person for my hurt. Rather than trying to talk about the hurt, I withdraw or attack.

When I “one up” the conflict, compassion becomes more scarce. When hurt is left unattended, it grows into bitterness and resentment.

When I justify my resentment, contempt settles in. We are afraid to show compassion. Mutual contempt makes them both feel chronically criticized and attacked, although neither really wants to attack the other.

To live with an uncompassionate heart, I harden my heart. A lack of compassion is contrary to what it means to be human. So, I must justify the hard heart or it becomes too painful.

How do I turn this downward spiral around?

I have to start with forgiveness — releasing that person from punishment for the hurt they caused. I have to be willing to let the LORD deal with that person. I don’t require an explanation or apology to forgive.

Forgiveness happens within my heart, between me and God. I don’t have to express it to the other person. Forgiveness is possible because of the cross.

I can forgive because God forgave me. I can forgive because of the power of the Holy Spirit in me.

After forgiveness, I seek to see and understand the hurt or attitude in the actions or demeanor of the other person.

I care about what that person is feeling — even if they do not show that they care about me. I not only care, but I want to alleviate their suffering.


Compassion is often lacking because people confuse it with other qualities.
  • Pity - if I feel sorry for someone but I look at their suffering as a result of their own defects, I project pity not compassion.
  • Agreement - to feel sympathy and compassion with another person, does not mean that I agree with the decisions that they made to get to their point of suffering or the way they react to the obstacles in their life. 
  • Excusing bad behavior — having compassion does not mean that I let people take advantage of me or continue to involve me in bad behavior. Having love and compassion does not mean that I let others manipulate me or that I try to manipulate them with my emotions (including anger). 
Compassion is showing that you care about the hurt of another. I extend compassion to another as an equally valuable human being. I see their hurt and emotions as being valid whether I agree with them or not.

Even in the midst of conflict, I can show compassion through using a kind touch, an affectionate phrase or name, or identifying with how the other feels.

Kindness vs Harshness

He who plants kindness gathers love.

Words cannot express the magnitude of an act of kindness or the healing that comes with a kind word. Think of when your spouse or a friend or even a stranger gave you an unexpected compliment or a word of compassion or a gentle touch. Remember how it lifted your spirits or melted your heart?

As we walk through life, we have innumerable opportunities to show kindness to others. Kindness can come in a special word or in a kind action. Ideas associated with being kind are tender, gentle, gracious, and considerate.

Kindness is not an option in the Christian life or in marriage.

Be kind and com-passionate to one another. Ephesians 4:32a

God also says that we are to wear kindness as we would clothing.  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12

Kindness is doing something and not expecting anything in return. It is saying an encouraging word or giving a compliment at an unexpected time.

Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up. Proverbs 12:2

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24

Extending a kind word or action in marriage can change the whole tone of the marriage. It can de-escalate a disagreement. It can soften the heart. Being kind and gentle in marriage is one of the markers of marriages that go the distance. Instead of extending kindness, many marriages operate with harsh overtones. See below for more on that topic and suggestions for demonstrating kindness.

Kindness has gotten a lot of publicity in the last few years - maybe because we see a lack of it. Someone started “Random Acts of Kindness” to bring attention to how much an act of kindness can change someone’s day.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness….. Galatians 5:22-23

God’s kindness to us appears many times in His Word. As we meditate on the magnitude of His kindness, our hearts are filled and overflow with kindness towards others.

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. Jeremiah 31:3

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? Romans 2:4

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:6-7

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. Titus 3:4-5a

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

Kindness seems like an obvious ingredient in marriage ………. but it is not!

While dating, we look for ways to show kindness to each other. What happens?
Sometimes, the other person says or does something that seems hurtful to me. Instead of talking about it, I lash back with harsh words. Animosity sets in.

Maybe, I may say something that sounds harsh to the other person, even though that was not my intent. My tone, volume, or the phrasing of my words caused misunderstanding without me realizing it.

When I make demeaning or condescending statements, harshness colors my words.

If I am sarcastic, use hostile humor, or mock my spouse, kindness disappears.
When I make demands of my spouse, instead of requests, I can sound harsh.

If I ignore my spouse when I am addressed, I am not extending kindness. I have the opportunity to build a bridge to their heart.

John and Julie Gottman have studied marital interactions for many years. The Gottman’s talk about "masters" and "disasters" as they categorize couples. The masters have learned to apply kindness and generosity to nearly every interaction they have with their spouses, while disasters employ hostility and contempt instead.

As the listener, my role is to see my spouse’s words through a lens of kindness rather than harshness. Misunderstanding and hurt often come through a wrong interpretation of the intent of my spouse.

Assume good will! 

Love is kind.  1 Corinthians 13:4

Kindness is part of love. Kindness isn’t just an intention but it is overt actions or words. So, how do I show it?
  • The most obvious way is to change my tone in what I say. I have to make sure that I sound kind to others. If I speak abruptly or questioningly, I probably don’t sound kind. 
  • Listening to my spouse is an act of kindness. 
  • When I respond with interest when my spouse says something, even if it seems inconsequential, I have inserted kindness into our interaction. 
  • A gentle touch or a random compliment softens the heart of my spouse. 
  • Taking the time to leave a note of appreciation or love is kind. 
  • Letting my spouse know that I am thinking of him/her with a text or a voicemail builds an atmosphere of kindness in my marriage. 
Real kindness puts the needs of his/her spouse first, acting on what will please or help the other most, and not on self-interest. By never being rude or abusive to my spouse in any way, I build a relationship permeated with kindness.

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Distractions from Listening

The word LISTEN contains
the same letters as the word SILENT. 
Alfred Brendel

Of all of the ways we learn, 85% of our learning comes from listening. It is our most used form of communication but the least taught. Less than 2% of us have any formal education experience with listening. [see our previous post on listening]

To be serious, effective listeners, people must learn how to resist the distractions that cross their path so they can better focus in on what they are trying to hear.

Distractions - internal and external

Internal distractions can be everything from thinking about my to-do list, what my friend said to me earlier, my hunger, something that is upsetting to me, or wondering where the kids are.

External distractions can range from outside noises (plane flying over), computer screen, TV, tablet, cell phone, reading material, other people, or food. [see more on technology below]

If I really want to change my listening skills, I start by eliminating as many distractions as possible. 

My spouse deserves my attention while talking to me. My children and friends deserve my full attention.

  • To get rid of the internal distractions, I may need to ask the other person for a moment to jot down a thought in my mind that I don’t want to lose. 
  • To keep my mind from wandering, I can choose to focus on the words and expressions of the other person.
  • To stay focused, I can think about how to rephrase what is being said and give feedback.
  • To minimize external distractions, we may need to move to a quieter location. I will close the computer, put down the tablet or cell phone, and turn off the TV. 
I want to value the person in my presence!

To eliminate as many distractions as possible takes an intentional effort  and a determination to LISTEN!!!


So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

Technology has made it infinitely easier to communicate around the world and locally. We can text our colleague in Zambia and the message arrives instantly!

Electronic devices have severely changed the way we communicate and what is important to us. Some people are more focused on getting acquaintances to like a post on Facebook than to get their own family to like their in-person communication. 

I recently observed a mom continually looking at her phone while walking her kids to school. She missed that special time together.

Being tied to any electronic device can be a barrier to face-to-face communication. To enhance face-to-face communication at home, consider the following:
  1. Make tech-free zones for the kids and adults. They can include the dinner table, riding in the car (at least some of the time), and bedrooms. 
  2. During family activities, put away cell phones (mom, dad, kids), including date night for husbands and wives.

Listening vs Distraction

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. Stephen Covey

Communication is central in every home and business - 76% of our waking hours are spent in some form of communication. Listening takes the biggest share of communication, 42-57% of our day.

Listening is vastly different from hearing. Hearing is a sensory (physical) process; listening is a mental process. Hearing is passive - perceiving sounds, effortless. Listening is active - requires conscious efforts, concentration, and interest.

I can hear birds singing, but it doesn’t take my attention. Or I can listen to a bird singing, seeking to identify the kind of bird.

Failure to listen and understand results in endless conflicts.

Failure to listen can be a hearing problem or it can be a heart problem - usually it’s the latter.

We often react with emotion to the first few words out of the other person’s mouth. If I am formulating a response or interrupting the other person, I am not listening to understand the other person’s message or heart.

To answer before listening—that is folly and shame. Proverbs 18:13

Another obstacle to good listening is distraction. In previous years, distractions would be reading or working, then television became an issue, now it is the ubiquitous cell phone. To listen, I give my attention to the other person - no TV, computers, or phone. [see our next post]

Communication/listening is one of the top issues that we see with couples who are struggling in their marriages. One or both don’t feel that the other one listens to them.

Changing this one area can change the whole relationship!

To listen
  • I give my attention to the other person and they know it! 
  • I respond with words and body language. 
  • I ask questions and/or empathize. 
  • I show value to the other person as they talk!
See "Distractions from Listening" in our next post.

Judgmental in Marriage

The opposite of having Grace in Marriage is being Judgmental in Marriage. 

Judgmental people live their lives as if everyone should think and act the way they themselves do.

One of the most destructive communication patterns is to judge or criticize others. A judgmental/critical person often uses shame to hurt people.

Criticism blames others for their emotions or problems. Criticism is harsh, condemning, and self-righteous.

John Gottman explains criticism, Criticizing your partner is different from offering a critique or voicing a complaint! The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is a personal attack: it is an attack on your partner at the core. In effect, you are dismantling his or her whole being when you criticize.
Complaint: “I was scared when you were running late and didn’t call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other.”
Criticism: “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish! You never think of others! You never think of me!”

When we judge or criticize another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical.

If you judge people, you have no time to love them. Mother Teresa

The judgmental/critical person establishes a criteria in their own behavior, which also applies to how others should behave. They judge everyone by their own standards of worth.

Most often, this type of person grew up in a home with judgmental, critical, or negative parents. It becomes a way of thinking. They have often been shamed and see that as a normal way of speaking. Then they use the shaming and criticism to attack or control others. But you don’t have to repeat that pattern! [see below]


Grace lives above the demands of human opinion and breaks free from legalistic regulations. Grace is the demonstration of Jesus’ words: “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” Chuck Swindoll

In Christ, we can be free from living according to others opinion, standards, or even their attacks. The total forgiveness and acceptance by God gives us the freedom to follow Him without the pressure of trying to measure up to a set of rules or standards.

I now have the freedom to let other people follow Him without judging their behavior. I know that their correction or rebuke is God’s job, not mine.

My job is not to try to change another person or decide how they should behave.

With our children, I can instruct them on matters of the heart. I do correct, teach, and train them, but I cannot make them obey or make them learn. If they do not obey or learn, I may need to change my methods. I seek God and the Holy Spirit shows me the way. But their obedience is an issue between the child and God. I do not have to carry the guilt of their disobedience.

Families Where Grace is in Place and Tired of Trying to Measure Up by Jeff VanVonderen
Be Transformed by Scope Ministries
What’s so Amazing about Grace? by Philip Yancey
Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine by Max Lucado

Also, see our blog post, Grace in Marriage.

Grace in Marriage

In a grace-full family, church, or group, individuals receive messages that they are loved and accepted, valuable, and not alone to face life.  Jeff VanVonderen, Families Where Grace is in Place

Most of us have met people who seem to be full of grace.

They accept and encourage others. They are not critical or judgmental. They display kindness, compassion, mercy, and gratitude with an attitude of humility.

We are attracted to that kind of person. We want to be that kind of person.

How do I display grace?

My display of grace towards others has a direct relationship to my view of God’s grace towards me. (see more on that topic below)

The way that I was treated and taught as I was growing up influences whether I am critical and judgmental or whether I am full of grace and mercy.

What happens in a marriage and a family that is full of grace?

I will seek the very best for my spouse. I love him for who he is - not what he does. I can separate who he is as a person from his behavior.

I communicate to my child that she is loved, accepted, and valued. I won’t use messages that will shame.

To make this kind of attitude and relationship work, I will fill my heart with forgiveness by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in me.

If forgiveness is missing, I will retaliate for the hurt that I have experienced (we ALL experience hurt in marriage and with family). Grace and unforgiveness cannot live side-by-side.

Grace means that God is the source of my acceptance, love, and value. When He is my source, I don’t have to depend on others to meet my needs. Instead, I can meet their needs as an agent of our Lord.

God's Grace

Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines Him to bestow benefits upon the undeserving. A.W. Tozer

God’s grace to us means that Jesus paid the penalty for my sin. I can receive God’s forgiveness based on what Christ did, not based on what I did. He did it because of His love for me, not because of my love for Him.

As a result of grace, we have been saved from sin’s penalty. One day we will be saved from sin’s presence. In the meantime we are being saved from sin’s power.  Alistair Begg

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. Romans 6:14

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us.
Ephesians 1:6-8a

What happens when grace isn't in place? Read our next blog.

Recommended reading:
  • Families Where Grace is in Place and Tired of Trying to Measure Up by Jeff VanVonderen 
  • Be Transformed by Scope Ministries 
  • What’s so Amazing about Grace? by Philip Yancey 
  • Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine by Max Lucado

Marriage: Arguing vs. Disagreeing

Is there a difference between arguing and disagreeing? 

We ask that question regularly to couples. They all say “yes.” The next question is “What is the difference?”

We get all kinds of answers to that question. They usually have to do with tone, attitude, and high emotions! [see back]


Is disagreement bad? No, disagreement is normal. There is actually a serious problem if you never disagree in your marriage. That is not to say that you don’t eventually come to an agreement on some issues or that the issue becomes a non-issue.

Two people, no matter how much they love each other and care about each other, will see some issues from different viewpoints.

It doesn’t mean that one is right and one is wrong. It means that you are different. You have different personalities and difference experiences. You will have different opinions.

Those different opinions can add to the richness of life and the relationship. ….. If you let them!

You may remember the classic story of asking six blind men to describe an elephant. They each touch a different part of the elephant - tusk, leg, trunk, ear, belly, and tail. Each described something completely different but they were all correct in the description of what they felt.

Often, there is more than one right answer or more than one right way to do something.

Early in marriage, couples often disagree about things such as how you load the dishwasher, how you fold towels, or how to hang a roll of toilet paper. There is not a right or wrong way to do any of those tasks.

We can agree to disagree on some parts of marriage. We can learn to understand each other better. But there are some differences that need to be resolved.


In every disagreement in your marriage, remember that there is not a winner or loser. You are partners in everything, so you will win together or lose together. Always work together to find a solution. Dave Willis

I approach the disagreement as a problem to be understood or solved, not as a battle to win.

When we disagree, the way we speak is critical. A disagreement can quickly escalate if the volume increases or the tone of voice changes.

If I keep my volume the same, the pitch and tone the same, then my words can be heard more easily.

Then, I use kind words. A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24


The more arguments you win, the less friends you will have.

To answer the question: What is the difference between disagreeing and arguing?

When I argue, I am trying to convince the other person that he is wrong and that I am right. I am not seeking to understand. I am not seeking to have a respectful discussion.

I cannot show respect and listen to the other person while I am arguing!

Most arguments begin by a strong emotional reaction to something that is said, because there is something under the surface in a person’s life that causes the reaction.

[Read more about that below.]

Once the emotions kick in and the tongue takes off, reason leaves the head!

You will have disagreements! You can decide ahead of time what you are going to do when the disagreement arises.

To avoid a strong emotional reaction to a disagreement requires planning and conviction from the Holy Spirit.

Satan wants to divide us. He wants to destroy marriages and take God’s glory. The Holy Spirit shows me that my spouse is not my enemy; Satan is. My battle is not with my spouse, it is with the real enemy.

A plan - when a disagreement arises:
  • I will not receive the difference in opinion as a personal attack, regardless of how it sounds at the time. 
  • I will listen and seek to understand my spouse’s heart on the issue. 
  • I will speak calmly and with respect. I will not attack my spouse. 
  • I will look for areas of agreement on the issue.
  • I will affirm my spouse and his opinion, even when I disagree.


The root cause of conflict [is] unmet desires in our hearts. When we want something and feel that we will not be satisfied unless we get it, that desire starts to control us. If others fail to meet our desires, we sometimes condemn them in our hearts and fight harder to get our own way.   Ken Sande

If my goal is to convince the other person that he is wrong and that I am right, then the argument becomes about who is right or wrong. I can’t afford to be wrong, it is too threatening to my own self-worth.

The argument is now about whether you value me and care about me. The fallacy behind this premise is:
  • Disagreement does not mean that I don’t care about you or value you or respect you. It means that I see the situation differently. 
  • Disagreement does not mean that you are wrong and that I am right. 
  • Another person can never be agreeable enough, supportive enough to make you feel good about yourself. Only God can do that. 

God doesn’t love us because of our worth, we are of worth because God loves us.  Martin Luther

LOVE: From a Full Heart or a Heart to Fill?

A Heart to Fill ….

"The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that one is loved; loved for oneself, or better yet, loved despite oneself.”  Victor Hugo

We come into life with a heart that is empty — waiting to be filled.

Mom and Dad try to fill it. But sometimes Mom and Dad don’t know how to love from a full heart …. or their hearts become empty. Maybe they are loving me but I don’t feel it. I keep looking for their approval, a proof that I am lovable. When I get correction or direction, I think that I have failed; I don’t measure up.

As I grow older, I try harder or seek out love and approval from someone else - an older sibling, a grandparent, or friends.

As I continue on my journey through life, I look for a mate to fill my heart — someone who will love me all the time, forever, no matter what.

Some of us find that person — the one who fills my heart.

We get married …… but something happens.

She wakes up grumpy in the morning and doesn’t respond to my affection. I feel rejected and unloved.

He is irritable and criticizes the way our house looks. I feel like a failure and unloved.

We go out to dinner with friends. He makes fun of me. She talks down to me. I feel disrespected. I feel unloved.

It becomes apparent that he doesn’t fill my heart. I must have married the wrong person.

She doesn’t love me the way I am; she is trying to change me. She only shows me love if I do everything her way. I can do better with someone else.

This sequence of events plays out in millions of lives. But as one country singer put it, I am lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.

[Read more about the search for love below and loving from a full heart on the back.]

My Search ….

The single desire that dominated my search for delight was simply to love and to be loved.  Augustine

That was Augustine’s search over 1600 years ago; it is the search for each of us. Augustine pursued sexual immorality and paganism to fill his empty heart.

Augustine’s search ended with a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. As he said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” I will always be hurt and disappointed in search of a love to fill my heart — forever, no matter what — until I find that love from God.

We love, because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) Love originated in the heart of God and flows out into our empty hearts. God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:5)

A Full Heart….

Love is the overflow of joy in God! . . . It is first a deeply satisfying experience of the fullness of God's grace, and then a doubly satisfying experience of sharing that grace with another person.  John Piper

A full heart comes from the outpouring of God’s love into the heart of His child.

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. (1 John 3:1)

One of the most encouraging and satisfying parts of that relationship is that He loves me. PERIOD. I didn’t have to DO anything. He wants me to be His child. He gave what was most important to Him to show me how much He loves me.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

And NOTHING will change His love for me. PERIOD.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

So, what does all of that have to do with my marriage?
How I feel about my kids/parents/friends?

Here’s what - It means that if you will allow God’s love to flow into your heart and fill you, that you can quit draining the life out of other people!

Instead of making demands or having expectations of others, I can pour into them out of the love overflow of my heart. I can love from a full heart! Forever. No matter what!

Love isn’t about getting; it’s about giving!

Pouring Out ….

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. Augustine

When I stop expressing love because my spouse has done something to make me mad or hurt me, that is a red flag that I am not loving from a heart filled from God. I am loving out of what I think I am getting/not getting from the other person.

What does it look like to pour out love to my spouse/others?
What if I don’t know how to do that?

Love doesn’t always have to be flowers and chocolate (although those two work for me!).

Love starts in the heart but has to be demonstrated. Words carry no weight without actions.


  • Kind words. Say something affirming/encouraging. 
  • Affection - including non-sexual, physical touch, hugs. 
  • Listen - give undivided attention, no texting, phone, computer, or TV. 
  • Help - look for practical ways to take some of the load off your spouse. 
  • Give something thoughtful, doesn’t have to be expensive. 
Love from a full heart!